Using a curriculum to reduce the stigma of mental illness


More acceptance of mental disorders can increase the likelihood of seeing treatment. An investigation looks at whether a curriculum could reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in school.

Many mental health advocates have argued that greater understanding of mental disorders can reduce stigma and lead to an increased likelihood of a person seeking help. An investigation in Pediatrics looked at the effectiveness of a curriculum called Eliminating the Stigma of Differences (ESD) at improving attitudinal and/or behavioral contexts.1

Investigators ran a cluster randomized trial in 6th-grade classes from 14 schools in 2011 and 2012 and ran follow-up at 6-month intervals through 24 months. They compared ESD to a control with no intervention and 2 other interventions: exposure to antistigma printed materials or contact with 2 young adults who had a history of mental illness. The study was conducted in an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse school district.

A total of 416 children participated in the follow-up and 312 of these participated in the entire 2 years. Investigators found that the children who were assigned to the ESD showed greater knowledge and positive attitudes as well as reduced social distance when compared with those who had other interventions or no interventions. Children who had high levels of mental health symptoms were more likely to seek out treatment during the follow-up period if they had been assigned to the ESD intervention group rather than the other arms.

The investigators said that ESD shows promise in improving how mental illness is seen among children and adolescents, which could improve the number of children and adolescents seeking treatment. Improved treatment numbers could help tackle the mental health crisis that is found among teenagers.


1.    Link BG, DuPont-Reyes MJ, Barkin K, Villatoro AP, Phelan JC, Painter K. A school-based intervention for mental illness stigma: a cluster randomized trial. Pediatrics. 2020;145(5):e20190780. doi:10.1542/peds.2019-0780

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